Halloween Tour of Ghost Homes
A spectre is haunting Tāmaki Makaurau...
On Halloween 2016 Save our Homes and Student Housing Action Group organised a Ghost Homes tour. We walked to four ‘ghost homes’ around Central Auckland. At each site different speakers explained the background of the site and musicians and poets performed. The tour was DJ’ed by local artist Linda T from D.A.N.C.E art club. First we take a quick tour of the march in this post before concluding with the message we want to leave you with. You can also watch a video documentary of the tour here or at the bottom of the article.
44 Symonds Street, Symonds ST HNZ Flats
We been spending all our money on these shitty flats
We ain’t ever gonna get it back
I know people that are marching on the streets for this
I don’t blame them it’s a bloody mess
- Lake South, lyrics from 'Renters'
Vanessa Cole opened the tour at the heritage-protected 45-apartment block built for Housing New Zealand as state housing in 1945. In May 2016 the building was sold to the University of Auckland for $2.5 million despite the land value alone being $7.6 million. The University has no immediate plans to renovate the building and open it up for accommodation, though when it does, the apartments will be unlikely to be available to low-income people of the city. Oliver Christeller from First Union spoke to us saying, “These ghost homes should be for everybody. They should be for working people, they shouldn’t sit here to accrue profit for millionaires.”
Lake South followed with a performance of his new single ‘Renters.’ While institutions such as the University of Auckland may be profiting from the housing crisis and rising property prices, The song speaks to the difficulties many people are having paying rent in Tamaki Makaurau.
150 Symonds Street
“As we look around and see how greed has become a process of oppression for the poor, and for low-income and for our working class. And so the struggle of the class becomes obvious and the struggle of the tangata whenua becomes obvious.” - Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua (poet, educator and community leader)
Poet and community leader Reverend Mua Strickson-Pua performed two poems at the next site and discussed a diverse range of topics. These spanned from the opening up of migration for Pacific Islanders after WWII for cheap labour and the building up of Pacific Islander communities in Auckland central, to gentrification in Auckland central. "What I'd like to remind people is inner-city Auckland was the pathway into this country. Inner city Auckland was the ghetto, was the thoroughfare for all new community migrant groups that came to Tāmaki Makaurau, Aukilani. So its quite ironic to be seeing the inner city in such drab, plush bourgeois richness for the chosen few, while the majority of our nation's people are suffering!"
The 25-apartment block up the road owned by Symonds Street Investments Ltd are awaiting redevelopment. When finished they will become luxury apartments for middle class and high-income earners. The four directors of the company also own dozens of other properties that are making profits out of the housing crisis.
St Kevin’s Arcade, Karangahape RdI have lived in more places than I can count/and none that burnt down/None that didn't exist./Have felt how to be a blemish to society, too much of a grievance, inconvenience/still had a place to return to/somewhere to name, somewhere to own/somewhere called home.- Vanessa Crofskey (poet). Excerpt from 'Wood/House'
The next stop at St Kevin’s Arcade, Vanessa Cole discussed the colonisation and gentrification of K Road. The road was named after the Chief Hape, and used as a travel route. In 1841, it was stolen from The road was named after the Chief Hape, and used as a travel route. In 1841, Ngāti Whātua negotiated with the Crown for 3,000 acres - including K Rd - to be set aside for tauiwi (non-Māori) settlement but the expected reciprocity on the Crown's side was not honoured. Through the 1900-1960’s, the area was a main shopping centre for local indigenous and migrant working class communities. In the mid 1960’s, major evictions took place when the roadway was build. Over the 1990’s K Road experienced a wave of gentrification.
St Kevin’s Arcade was sold to retired soap-actor and musician Paul Reid in 2015. Reid increased the prices of rent, yet those who couldn’t afford the increases have been evicted. The arcade has historically been a cultural hub and shopping centre for working class Māori and Pasifika communities of surrounding suburbs such as Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Freeman’s Bay, Kingsland and Newton. The changes to the Arcade, however, have made the site increasingly reflect the new (affluent and gentrified) Ponsonby. While there was waves of gentrification over the 1990’s, the fear is the processes will continue.iwi. Through the 1900-1960’s, the area was a main shopping centre for local indigenous and migrant working class communities. In the mid-1960’s, major evictions took place in Newton gully when the motorways were built. Over the 1990’s K Road experienced a wave of gentrification.
Vanessa Crofskey, Rising Voices alumni, then followed with a performance of her poem 'Wood/House'.
1 Greys Ave
The Council-owned “Civic Administrative Building” is at the bottom of Greys Ave, in Aotea Square. Auckland Council plans to sell the 18-storey building to a private property development company. 10% of the apartments are labelled as “affordable”: at under $650,000. This bench-mark of "affordability" is a clear sign that the Council excludes a large and growing population of working class people in their considerations of 'affordable' homes.
The march ended on an uplifting note with Polynesian Panthers member Will ‘Ilolahia calling for further action. Will described the direct action taken by the Tenants Aid Brigade in representing families and communities over issues of housing, showing the long running struggle needing to be continued.
The term ‘ghost homes’ was coined by the media in June last year, and refers to houses, apartments or buildings left unoccupied for long periods of time. 33,000 were officially classified in Auckland as empty, but ⅓ of those were said to have had tenants that were temporarily away, leaving 22,152 dwellings empty without official explanation. In June 2016, Housing New Zealand published the numbers of state houses, occupied and unoccupied, they have recorded in Auckland, both those occupied and and those unoccupied. They listed 828 as unoccupied across the city, out of 27,537. Auckland has nearly 23,000 homes recorded as sitting empty for months or years while nonetheless homeless and house prices increase.
While there is a ‘housing crisis,’ not everyone is suffering. In fact, some are benefiting. The rising house prices are far from a crisis for property investors whose increasing profit is tied to the decreasing possibility for the working-class to secure stable housing. Neither are empty homes a crisis for investors who may wait for the value of their property to increase before selling them. Those in wealthy neighbourhoods can expect their lifestyles to be protected. Meanwhile those in poor neighbourhoods can expect their communities to be “redeveloped”. Those in state houses can expect 90-day notice evictions and periodic review of their eligibility to live in houses they've made homes, sometimes for decades. Those in private and public rental homes cannot expect anything better. The growing numbers of people experiencing homelessness cannot expect anything better.
This disconnect between rich and poor experiences is increasing, and it is well demonstrated with ghost homes. While some have claimed ghost homes are not at exceptional rates compared to 'non-housing crisis times', ghost homes continue to make massive capital gains for those property speculators who own them. These four sites do not need to be empty, they need homeless people and homeless people need them. The government and Auckland Council refuses to deal with the situation, preferring instead to subsidise and encourage property developers in profit-making.